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ICT for Sustainability: An Emerging Research Field


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This introductory chapter provides definitions of sustainability, sustainable development, decoupling, and related terms; gives an overview of existing interdisciplinary research fields related to ICT for Sustainability, including Environmental Informatics, Computational Sustainability, Sustainable HCI, and Green ICT; introduces a conceptual framework to structure the effects of ICT on sustainability; and provides an overview of this book.
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ICT for Sustainability: An Emerging
Research Field
Lorenz M. Hilty and Bernard Aebischer
Abstract This introductory chapter provides definitions of sustainability,
sustainable development, decoupling, and related terms; gives an overview of
existing interdisciplinary research fields related to ICT for Sustainability, including
Environmental Informatics, Computational Sustainability, Sustainable HCI, and
Green ICT; introduces a conceptual framework to structure the effects of ICT on
sustainability; and provides an overview of this book.
Keywords Sustainable use Sustainable development Technological substitution
Decoupling Dematerialization ICT4S
1 Introduction
This book is about using the transformational power of Information and
Communication Technology (ICT) to develop more sustainable patterns of pro-
duction and consumption. It grew out of a conference that the editors organized
in Zurich in 2013: the first international conference on ICT for Sustainability,
L.M. Hilty (&)
Department of Informatics, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
Empa, Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, St. Gallen,
Centre for Sustainable Communications CESC, KTH Royal Institute of Technology,
Stockholm, Sweden
B. Aebischer
Zurich, Switzerland
Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015
L.M. Hilty and B. Aebischer (eds.), ICT Innovations for Sustainability,
Advances in Intelligent Systems and Computing 310,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-09228-7_1
or ICT4S for short [1]. After publishing the proceedings [2], we felt the need for a
book that brings together more systematically the fundamental ideas and methods
of ICT for Sustainability as a field of study. This book, a joint effort by 47 authors,
is the result.
As is to be expected, the book is only a first step. Many important aspects could
not be covered, and efforts to generate consistent terminology and methodology
are still in their infancy. We nevertheless hope that the reader will find inspiration
and orientation in this exciting new field of research and innovation.
How can we harness ICT for the benefit of sustainability? Two things are
1. To stop the growth of ICT’s own footprint
2. To find ways to apply ICT as an enabler in order to reduce the footprint of
production and consumption by society
So far, we have not defined ‘‘sustainability’’ or ‘‘footprint,’’ but have relied on the
reader’s preconceptions. Section 2will provide definitions of the basic concepts
associated with ICT for Sustainability. In Sect. 3, we give an overview of other
research fields related to ICT4S, such as Environmental Informatics, Computa-
tional Sustainability, Sustainable HCI, and Green ICT. Section 4introduces a
conceptual framework for structuring the effects of ICT. Finally, Sect. 5provides
an overview of the topics covered in this book.
2 What Is Sustainability?
2.1 Basic Definitions
We will first define ‘‘sustainable use’’ and then reconstruct the concept of
‘sustainable development’’ based on its original definition by the World Com-
mission on Environment and Development (WCED).
Definition 1: Sustainable Use. To make sustainable use of a system S with
regard to a function F and a time horizon L means to use Sin a way that does not
compromise its ability to fulfill Ffor a period L. In other words, a system is used
sustainably if the user can sustain this use ‘‘long enough.’
Smay also be called a ‘‘resource’’ in the broadest sense of the term, and the
process of fulfilling F can also be called a ‘‘service.’’ We may think of Sas being
either a human-made or a natural system, or a combination of the two: a human-
environment system.
This definition may appear rather formalistic at first sight. However, it is simply
an attempt to make explicit what follows logically from the idea of using some-
thing for a purpose, and the everyday meaning of the adjective ‘‘sustainable’’, i.e.,
4 L.M. Hilty and B. Aebischer
‘able to be maintained at a certain rate or level’’ [3]. For instance, if we want to
make sustainable use of a climbing rope, we simply avoid overloading it to the
extent that it breaks.
When H.C. von Carlowitz wrote his principles of sustainable forestry in 1713
the world was less complex than today. The function of a forest was to
produce wood. His basic principle was simple: Do not cut more wood than will
grow in the same period of time. Today, we are aware that forests have additional
functions, such as filtering air and water, holding soil in place and preserving
biodiversity, as well as protective and recreational functions. It follows that there
is a variety of ideas on how to make sustainable use of a forest. Depending on the
Fthat dominates our perspective and our interest, we may have different opinions
on how to make sustainable use of a forest. Even worse, it may be unclear where
exactly Sbegins and ends: Where should we draw the system boundary? Can Sbe
meaningfully separated from the rest of the world?
Many controversies related to sustainability stem from the fact that people think
of different systems and functions to be sustained, as well as different time hori-
zons, and do not explicitly declare them when engaging in a discourse, when
designing a technological artifact or developing a business model. Any theories or
actions referring to sustainability should therefore answer Dobson’s [5, p. 406]
‘principal organising question’’, namely:
What is to be sustained?
Sustainable use, as we define it above, could be called a relative concept of
sustainability. This is because its meaning depends on how system S, function F,
and time horizon Lare defined in context. It is a burden to the sustainability
discourse that an increasing number of ‘‘sustainable x’’ terms (such as ‘‘sustainable
management’’ or ‘sustainable software’’) are used without providing an explicit
context in which S, F, and Lare defined.
However, there is at least one ‘‘sustainable x’’ term that can be regarded as
referring to an absolute concept of sustainability, as the context was set by the
WCED in 1987 [6]: sustainable development. Below, we explicitly refer to this
original definition of sustainable development and not to later variants.
Definition 2: Sustainable Development. ‘Sustainable development is devel-
opment that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of
future generations to meet their own needs.’’ [6]
This definition, also known as the ‘‘Brundtland definition,’’ can be reformulated
as ‘‘making sustainable use of our planet to maintain its function of fulfilling
human needs.’’ As a first glance, it therefore seems that sustainable development is
Assuming that we intend to use the rope for the next ten years, we can specify the parameters
as follows: S=rope, F =securing a climber of up to 100 kg, L=10 years.
Carlowitz’s book is usually cited as the origin of the word ‘‘nachhaltig,’’ the counterpart of the
English word ‘‘sustainable.’’
ICT for Sustainability: An Emerging Research Field 5
just a special case of sustainable use, whereby S=planet,F=fulfilling human
needs, and L=several generations (Table 1).
However, there is a second element in the Brundtland definition that cannot be
reduced to sustainable use: distributive justice. The WCED highlighted ‘‘the
essential needs of the world’s poor, to which overriding priority should be given’’
[7]. M. Christen points out that sustainable development ‘‘might best be concep-
tualised as an attempt to grant the right to a decent life to all living human beings
without jeopardising the opportunity to live decently in future.’’ Christen therefore
revises Dobson’s ‘‘principal organising question’’ in the following manner:
What has to be guaranteed or safeguarded for every person, no matter whether she lives at
present or in the future? [7]
It should be clear that no single product, process, policy, region, or technology can
be ‘‘sustainable’’ in the sense of ‘‘sustainable development’’, as the latter concept
has a global scope by definition.
Definition 3: Sustainability Indicator. A sustainability indicator is a measure
that is used in a process of governance
to identify actions that are more beneficial
to sustainability than others. In this definition, ‘‘sustainability’ can be understood
either as sustainable use (Definition 1) or as sustainable development (Definition 2).
In the second case, there are two types of sustainability indicators:
Resource-oriented indicators: They cover the ‘‘sustainable use of the planet’
aspect of sustainable development. The term ‘‘footprint’’ has become a generic
metaphor for resource-oriented sustainability indicators. Carbon footprint
indicators estimate to what extent an activity uses the atmosphere’s limited
capacity to absorb greenhouse gases. The ecological footprint is an indicator
trying to map any human impact onto a share of the carrying capacity of the
planet. [9]
Table 1 Examples used in the text
Description System S
Function F
(service provided)
Time horizon L
Using a climbing rope A rope Securing a person A decade
Sustainable forestry 1 A forest Producing wood Generations
Sustainable forestry 2 A forest Preserving biodiversity Generations
Sustainable forestry n A forest (Any other function) Generations
Sustainable development The planet Meeting human needs Generations
‘Governance’’ is defined as ‘‘all processes of governing, whether undertaken by a government,
market or network, whether over a family, tribe, formal or informal organization or territory and
whether through laws, norms, power or language.’’ [8].
6 L.M. Hilty and B. Aebischer
Well-being-oriented indicators: They cover the ‘‘fulfill human needs’’ aspect of
sustainable development. As a basic indicator, Gross Domestic Product (GDP)
is used. However, because ‘‘economic indicators such as GDP were never
designed to be comprehensive measures of prosperity and well-being’’, addi-
tional indicators, known as ‘‘beyond-GDP indicators,’’ are under discussion.
It is important to understand that sustainable development (Definition 2) can only
be quantified using indicators of both types; the idea is to fulfill human needs and
make sustainable use of global resources.
Resource-oriented indicators reduce the complexity of deeply nested resource
systems Sto simple metrics. This is why any resource-oriented indicator—at least
implicitly—relies on a model of the service-providing system. This model is used
to estimate the impact of an action in terms of sustainability of use: The greater an
unwanted impact on the resource, the less sustainable the action.
Established indicators are linked to specific impact assessment methods that
prescribe how the data are collected and the models used to calculate the indicator
for a specific case. Examples include the environmental impact assessment cate-
gories used in Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA).
In engineering contexts, there is a tendency to focus on energy use or CO
emissions as central resource-oriented indicators. The terms ‘‘energy-efficient,’’
‘carbon-neutral,’’ and ‘‘sustainable’’ are often used interchangeably. However,
this is an oversimplification, for three reasons. First, the diffusion of energy-
efficient technologies does not necessarily lead to an overall reduction of energy
use: Efficient technologies can also stimulate the demand for the resource they use
efficiently. This is known as Jeavons’ paradox or the ‘‘rebound effect.’’ Second, the
production, use, and disposal of these technologies needs resources as well: When
assessed from a life-cycle perspective, energy efficiency may look somewhat
different. Third, although energy is crucial, the impact on other natural resources
should also be included.
2.2 Classification of Resources and the Question
of Substitutability
Resources can be classified in natural and human-made resources and in material
and immaterial resources [14]. These two dimensions are orthogonal, in other
words, all combinations are possible (Table 2). Furthermore, material natural
resources can be renewable or non-renewable. A renewable resource can replenish
In several chapters of this book, the method of LCA is applied to estimate the environmental
impacts of ICT goods and services: [1113].
ICT for Sustainability: An Emerging Research Field 7
if the rate at which it is used does not exceed its renewal rate. A non-renewable
resource does not renew itself in meaningful human timeframes.
We will not introduce formal definitions of these resource categories here as
they are defined more or less consistently in the literature. However, the distinction
between ‘‘material’’ and ‘‘immaterial’’ resources deserves some clarification.
UNEP’s International Resource Panel introduced this useful distinction: A
resource is called material if using it affects other uses of the resource. For
example, a stone used to build a wall will no longer serve for other functions. By
contrast, resources ‘‘whose use has no effect on the qualities that make them
useful’’ are called immaterial. In this sense, ‘‘the shine of a star used by a captain
to find his way’’ is an immaterial resource [14, p. 1].
Technological innovation leads to the diffusion of new technologies, which are
then partially or fully substituted for older technologies or natural resources. Cars
have replaced horse-drawn carriages, the computer has replaced the abacus, and
LCD screens have recently replaced CRT screens. To express substitution in the
terms we defined above, we can regard each technological product as a resource S’
that may fulfill the same function Fas a resource S. If this is the case, S’ is
obviously a potential substitute for S. Many controversies around sustainability are
based on different beliefs about the future substitutability of resources. Below, we
first define substitutability and then discuss an extended example.
Definition 4: Substitutability. If a function Fprovided by a system Scan also be
provided by S’, we say that S’ is substitutable for S. Note that substitutability is a
ternary relationship: S’ is substitutable for Swith regard to F.
Substitution is crucial with regard to non-renewable resources. Unless we
assume, for example, that fossil energy sources are substitutable by renewables,
transition to a sustainable use of energy must appear impossible.
Substitutability has implications for the actions to be taken to promote sus-
tainability. If Scan be substituted by an S’ fulfilling Fas well, there is no need to
sustain S. What makes this concept hard to grapple with in political discourse is the
fact that substitutability depends on future technological developments and dis-
coveries, so it is impossible to know who is right today. An extreme technological
optimist may believe that any limited material resource will become substitutable
by some unlimited resource in due time, while a person thinking in an extremely
precautionary way would not cut down a single tree as it might have some
Table 2 Classification of resources and examples
Material Immaterial
Natural Renewable:
Song of a bird
Genetic information
Climate regulation
Human-made Machines
Built environment
Engineered materials
Scientific knowledge
8 L.M. Hilty and B. Aebischer
irreplaceable properties. Most people’s beliefs are located somewhere between
these two poles.
In fact, substitution is more complex as it can occur at different levels. An
example will illustrate this idea. Bob wants to meet up with Jill, who lives on
another continent. He may use an airline to travel to Jill’s country. The airline
needs planes, airport infrastructure, personnel, fuel, the atmosphere, stable weather
conditions, and many other resources. For the aircraft to be built, materials must be
extracted from the Earth’s crust, people trained to build planes, power plants must
generate electricity, and so on. The power plants, in turn, need fuel, they must be
built, maintained, and so on. If Bob were to decide to have a virtual meeting with
Jill instead, we would, of course, discover a similar structure of nested resource
This example shows that there is usually a hierarchy (formally, a tree) of
resources that provides a service. From an economic perspective, each node of the
tree is a production process, whose input is resources provided by other processes.
Thus, the airline produces the service of transporting Bob from A to B, the aircraft
industry produces aircraft, and a refinery produces fuel. The overall system that
produces the final service delivered to Bob is inconceivably complex, and we
would probably never understand it in all detail if we tried.
Given this hierarchy of resources that emerges when one asks how a specific
service is produced, it is essential to understand that substitution can in principle
occur at any level, as shown in Fig. 1:
Bob could replace physical transport with an immersive telepresence tech-
nology that makes a virtual meeting with Jill sufficiently similar to a face-to-
face meeting.
He could replace air travel with a new means of transport, such as a vactrain
traveling through evacuated tubes at five times the speed of sound with almost
zero resistance.
The airline could use a new type of aircraft that is extremely energy-efficient.
The aircraft could use a new type of fuel, e.g., based on solar energy.
emissions to the atmosphere could be reversed by a new carbon seques-
tration technology.
People have different beliefs in substitutability depending on the level of the
resource hierarchy. Some people tend to believe that we will still use planes
How to determine which alternative—flying or videoconferencing—is preferable from the
perspective of sustainability is discussed in the chapter by Coroama et al. [13] in this volume.
Fortunately, we do not need to. The market economy has an extremely useful feature that
computer scientists refer to as ‘‘information hiding’’: You do not have to know what is behind an
interface to make use of a module. In the same way, Bob does not have to understand how a plane
is operated, the airline does not have to know how planes are built, and (in theory) nobody has to
worry about where the energy comes from or how the environment deals with pollutants.
However, market failures and the goal of distributive justice force us to strive for a deeper
understanding of the dynamics of resource use.
ICT for Sustainability: An Emerging Research Field 9
100 years from now, but with some substitutions at the lower levels. Others think
that it is easier to change social practices—adopt new forms of virtual meetings—
than to replace fossil fuels or solve the problem of greenhouse gas emissions.
An interesting question is what type of resource is at the bottom of the resource
hierarchy. All human-made material resources are made from natural resources,
abiotic or biotic, and even long-lasting human-made material resources need
energy from the environment to be operated and maintained. No house can be built
or repaired without using some form of energy; no food has ever been created
without biomass as its raw material. Immaterial resources can be substituted for
material ones only to a certain extent. All information needs a physical substrate;
there is a theoretical minimum to the amount of energy used for information
processing, known as Feynman’s limit.
We depend on the resources that we take from the environment. Humankind has
learned to transform this environment, which makes it debatable to which extent it
should still be called the ‘‘natural environment.’’ There is, however, no reason to
uses uses
uses uses
uses uses
fuel fuel
uses uses
atmosphere as
sink for CO2 emissions
CO2 sequestration
uses uses
Fig. 1 A single branch of a resource-use hierarchy with potential substitutes at each level,
indicated by dotted arrows
See also the chapter by Aebischer and Hilty [15] in this volume.
10 L.M. Hilty and B. Aebischer
assume that we could or should replace the basic ecosystem services provided by
nature, which include the production of food and many raw materials, water and
some forms of energy, as well as regulation services such as the purification of
water and air, carbon sequestration, and climate regulation. These services, in turn,
rely on supporting ecosystem services such as nutrient dispersal and cycling, seed
dispersal and many others. The complexity of the global ecosystem is much
greater than that of any human-made structure, and it can be regarded an ethical
imperative that we should ‘‘sustain ecosystem services for all countries and gen-
erations to come.’’ [16]
2.3 Is Sustainability a Question of Balance?
Sustainable development is commonly described with the help of a metaphor:
finding a ‘‘balance’’ between the environment, economy, and society. This
approach is also known as the ‘‘three-pillar model.’’ It has become so common in
the political discourse that critical reflection on it is often lacking.
Yet this metaphorical description deserves critical examination. A balance can
only exist between entities that are in principle independent but connected. This is
frequently expressed by diagrams similar to the one shown in Fig. 2a, suggesting
as it does that environment, economy, and society are entities that exist at the same
ontological level and which are connected by overlapping areas.
With regard to the economy and society, this is a misconception. By definition,
the economic system forms a part of society: It is hard to imagine economic
activities outside human society.
With regard to the environment and society, the situation is different. It is not
impossible to view human society as an entity that is at least in principle inde-
pendent of its natural environment. However, this view suggests an extreme
position regarding the substitutability of resources: We would have to assume that
human-made capital can in principle substitute all natural resources.
If, on the other hand, the three systems are regarded as nested—as shown in
Fig. 2b—the idea of achieving a balance between them becomes impossible: By
definition, there can be no balance between a part and a whole.
Indeed, there even exists a definition of ‘‘Computational Sustainability’’ built largely around
this description (see Sect. 3.3).
The normative implication of this position has been called ‘‘weak sustainability’’—in contrast
to ‘‘strong sustainability,’ which rejects the assumption that human-made capital can substitute
all natural resources. The precautionary principle for dealing with uncertainty about technological
risk implies a position of strong sustainability [17].
ICT for Sustainability: An Emerging Research Field 11
2.4 Decoupling and Dematerialization
Comparing the global development of GDP with the extraction of natural material
resources over the last century (Fig. 3) reveals two things [14]:
The rate of resource extraction increased by a factor of 8.
World GDP increased by a factor of 23.
This shows that the two indicators are ‘‘decoupled’’ to a certain degree. It also
shows that the decoupling is not sufficient to bring resource extraction down, nor
even to slow its growth. Below, we give a slightly generalized definition of
Definition 5: Decoupling. Given two sustainability indicators I
and I
, with I
being a well-being-oriented indicator and I
being a resource-oriented indicator
(Definition 3), a process increasing the ratio I
over time is called decoupling I
from I
The quantity I
can itself be used as an indicator; it is called I
and its inverse I
is called I
Decoupling obviously requires some substitution of resources at some level of
the system.
To make a transition toward sustainable development possible, we
must increase our understanding of technological substitution and focus on
innovation that drives substitution in a sustainable direction.
(a) (b)
Fig. 2 Different views of the environment, society, and the economy; aa diagram frequently
used to ilustrate the three-pillar model of sustainable development; bthe nested model
The order in which the numerator and denominator are given varies, either as ‘decoupling I
from I
,’ e.g., ‘‘decoupling GDP growth from resource use,’’ [16] or as ‘decoupling I
from I
e.g., ‘‘decoupling natural resource usefrom economic growth.’’ [14].
One might argue that there is an alternative way of decoupling, based on increasing the
efficiency of production processes rather than on substitution. Increasing efficiency, however, can
be regarded as substituting immaterial resources (information) for other resources. See also the
chapter on interactions between information, energy, and time by D. Spreng [18] in this volume.
12 L.M. Hilty and B. Aebischer
The special case of decoupling based on the substitution of immaterial
resources for material resources is also known as dematerialization.
2.5 Distributive Justice
The use of global resources is not distributed equally throughout the world. One
striking example is the use of the atmosphere as a sink of CO
and other green-
house gases: Although people in all regions burn fossil fuels and practice agri-
culture (the two main reasons for greenhouse gas emissions), huge differences
exist in per-capita emissions ([19], see Fig. 4).
In the long term, these differences will have to shrink for reasons of distributive
justice. If global emissions are to be reduced for reasons of climate policy, it follows
that dramatic dematerialization is needed in the currently high-emitting countries.
3 Related Research Fields
Several fields of applied research have been established to connect the two worlds
of ICT and sustainability. Each of these fields is in itself an interdisciplinary
combination of approaches, usually combining methods from disciplines of
1900 1910 1920 1930 1940 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000
[trillion (10^12) international dollars]
Material extraction
[Billion tons]
Ores and industrial minerals
Fossil energy carriers
Construction minerals
Fig. 3 Global material extraction in billion (10
) tons and GDP in trillion (10
) international
dollars (Source [14, p. 11])
ICT for Sustainability: An Emerging Research Field 13
computing and communications with methods from environmental or social sci-
ences. Below, we briefly introduce each field and then discuss how ICT4S relates
to them. See Table 3below for an overview.
3.1 Cybernetics as a Precursor
The idea of using computing power to make the world more sustainable is not new.
The fourth Annual Symposium of the American Society for Cybernetics, held in
Washington, D.C. in 1970, published its proceedings under the title ‘‘Cybernetics,
Artificial Intelligence, and Ecology’’ [20]. It contained a vision of an automated air
quality control system (Fig. 5) and boldly stated that ‘‘Knowledge acquisition is
the answer to the ecological crisis!’’ ‘‘Model makers, system analysts, and those
concerned with developing informational feedbacks’’ were encouraged to ‘‘help
correcting environmental maladies.’’ [21] If published in the context of persuasive
technology or eco-feedback systems today, this statement would not be unusual,
although it could be criticized
for its simplistic approach; for the 1970s, it was
012 3 45 6
Greenhouse gas pollution (tons CO2e/y per person)
population (billions)
North America
Middle East & North Africa
South America
Central America & Caribbean
Sub-Saharan Africa
Fig. 4 Greenhouse gas emissions in tons of CO
equivalent per capita in the year 2000. The
rectangular areas show the total annual emissions per region. This diagram includes all relevant
greenhouse gases, not only CO
(Source [19, p. 12])
See the chapter ‘‘Gamification and Sustainable Consumption’’, which includes a critique of
persuasive technologies, in this volume [71].
14 L.M. Hilty and B. Aebischer
3.2 Environmental Informatics
Environmental Informatics (EI) combines methods from the fields of Computer
Science and Information Systems with problem-oriented knowledge from Environ-
mental Science and Management. Similar to Health Informatics or Bioinformatics,
EI emerged from the need to systematically meet domain-specific requirements to
information processing: ‘‘The design of information processing systems for the
appropriate utilization of environmental data is a big challenge for computer
scientists [] The existing solutions often suffer from a narrowed, unidisciplinary
view of the problem scope.’’ [23] This need became obvious in the early 1990s,
when many public authorities started building up Environmental Information
Systems (EIS). At that time, EI was focused on applications in the public sector.
Private-sector applications emerged as a sub-field a few years later [24].
The first book entitled ‘‘Environmental Informatics’’ was edited in 1995 by
Avouris and Page [25]. It lists six methods relevant for the field: modeling and
simulation, knowledge-based systems, user interface design, computer graphics
and visualization, artificial neural networks, and data integration. From today’s
perspective, EI can best be described as a field that uses methods from Information
Systems complemented by advanced simulation modeling techniques, and spatial
data processing.
EI has sometimes also been called ‘‘E-Environment’’ [26]. Traditional environ-
mental monitoring and new forms of ICT-based environmental metrics [27] can be
regarded as part of EI.
The contribution of EI to sustainable development is the potential of shared data
and understanding to create a consensus on environmental strategies and policies
in the long term. Some authors today focus on the data-science aspects [28], while
others put greater emphasis on transdisciplinary problem-solving and knowledge
Fig. 5 Vision of an automated air quality control system from 1970. (Source [22])
ICT for Sustainability: An Emerging Research Field 15
integration. The latter group includes one of the founding fathers of the field, B.
Page. In his view, EI ‘‘analyses real-world problems in a given environmental
domain and defines requirements for information processing. On the other hand, it
introduces the problem-solving potential of Informatics methodology and tools
into the environmental field’’ [29, p. 697].
The development of EI is documented in the proceedings of the three main
conference series of the EI community: EnviroInfo, ISESS, and ITEE. The EI
community is also connected to the International Environmental Modeling and
Software Society and their bi-annual summit, iEMSs.
ICT-ENSURE, the European Commission’s support action for building a
European Research Area in the field of ‘‘ICT for Environmental Sustainability’’
2008–2010, has helped structure the field of EI [30].
3.3 Computational Sustainability
The field of Computational Sustainability (CompSust) is closely connected with
the Institute for Computational Sustainability (ICS), which was founded in 2008
with support from an ‘‘Expeditions in Computing’’ grant from the U.S. National
Science Foundation. [35]
CompSust is defined by ICS as ‘‘an interdisciplinary field that aims to apply
techniques from computer science, information science, operations research,
applied mathematics, and statistics for balancing environmental, economic, and
societal needs for sustainable development.’’ [35]
As described by C.P. Gomez, the aim of CompSust is to provide decision
support for sustainable development policies, with a focus on ‘‘complex decisions
about the management of natural resources. [] Making such decisions optimally,
or nearly optimally, presents significant computational challenges that will require
the efforts of researchers in computing, information science, and related disci-
plines, even though environmental, economic, and societal issues are not usually
studied in those disciplines.’’ [36, p.5]
The contribution of CompSust is found in methods of dynamic modeling,
constraint reasoning and optimization. It has also provided approaches using
machine learning and statistical modeling. [36]
The phrase ‘‘balancing environmental, economic, and societal needs’ occurs
frequently in key documents describing CompSust (e.g., [35,36]). However, it
remains unclear which needs precisely are addressed, and what the assumed
concept of balance is ([37], see also Sect. 2.3). The Brundtland definition (our
Definition 2), to which the CompSust community also refers, addresses needs only
EnviroInfo: Environmental Informatics (since 1986) [31], ISESS: International Symposium on
Environmental Software Systems (since 1995) [32], ITEE: International Conference on
Information Technologies in Environmental Engineering (since 2000) [33], iEMSs: International
Congress on Environmental Modelling and Software (since 2002) [34].
16 L.M. Hilty and B. Aebischer
in one sense: as the basic human needs that all people, including those living in the
future, have to be granted. ‘‘Balancing’’ seems to address this issue in some way,
but without referring to an approach for dealing with the deeply normative issues
connected to distributive justice. An algorithm that can resolve normative issues
has yet to be invented.
3.4 Sustainable HCI
Sustainable HCI is a sub-field of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) that focuses
on the relationship between humans and technology in the context of sustain-
ability. Sustainable HCI had its starting point in 2007, when E. Blevis first pre-
sented the concept of Sustainable Interaction Design (SID). Sustainability was
considered a major criterion for the design of technology, as important in the
design process as criteria such as usability or robustness [38]. SID considers not
only the material aspects of a system’s design, but also the interaction throughout
the life cycle of the system, taking into account how a system might be designed to
encourage longer use, transfer of ownership, and responsible disposal at the end of
J. Mankoff et al. proposed a characterization of sustainability in interactive
technologies according to the following categories:
‘Sustainability through design’’: How can the design of technology and
interactive systems support sustainable lifestyles or promote sustainable
‘Sustainability in design’’: How can technology itself be designed such that its
use is sustainable? [39]
Which concepts of sustainability are addressed here, given the definitions of
Sect. 2? In the second case, the focus appears to be on the sustainable use (Def-
inition 1) of the technological artifact itself. However, there seems to be a common
assumption that the longevity of an artifact contributes to sustainable development
(Definition 2) as well, in particular by saving materials and reducing waste.
In the first case, ‘‘sustainability through design’’, the reference to lifestyles clearly
suggests that sustainable development is addressed.
DiSalvo et al. [41] provide an empirical analysis of the emerging structure of
Sustainable HCI research. They divide the field into five genres:
Although this assumption provides good guidance in many cases, it should not be taken for
granted. Counterintuitive examples have been presented in LCA studies in other domains. For
example, using a cotton shopping bag for ten shopping trips has a greater environmental impact
than using ten plastic bags just once each [40].
ICT for Sustainability: An Emerging Research Field 17
‘Persuasive technology’’ stimulating desired (sustainable) behavior
‘Ambient awareness’’ systems making users aware of some aspect of the
sustainability of their behavior, or qualities of the environment associated with
issues of sustainability
‘Sustainable interaction design’
‘Formative user studies’
‘Pervasive and participatory sensing’
E. M. Huang [42] describes an ‘‘initial wave of research’’ in Sustainable HCI,
having shown that ‘‘HCI can contribute to solutions to sustainability challenges,’
but also that problems of sustainability cannot be ‘‘framed purely as problems for
HCI or interaction design issues.’’ [16,42] Based on this, she proposes building
bridges to other fields: to existing bodies of environmental data (such as LCA data)
and related theories, methods, and models; to environmental psychology (e.g.,
when designing eco-feedback systems); and, last but not least, to real-world sit-
uations such as negotiating with a municipality.
3.5 Green IT and Green ICT
We use the terms ‘‘Green IT’’ and ‘‘Green ICT’’ interchangeably. The first is more
common, while the second is more consistent with this book’s terminology. We
assume that digital convergence has amalgamated the technologies of computation
and telecommunications to an extent that makes their separation obsolete in this
The term ‘‘Green IT’’ became popular after the publication of a Gartner report
in 2007 [43] and was later joined by ‘‘Green Computing,’’ ‘‘Green Software,’
‘Green Software Engineering,’’ and ‘‘Green Information Systems (IS).’
S. Murugesan defined ‘‘Green IT’’ in 2008 as ‘‘the study and practice of
designing, manufacturing, using, and disposing of computers, servers, and asso-
ciated subsystems [] efficiently and effectively with minimal or no impact on the
environment.’’ [44] He identifies the following focus areas [44, p. 26]:
Design for environmental sustainability
Energy-efficient computing
Power management
Data center design, layout, and location
Server virtualization
Responsible disposal and recycling
Regulatory compliance
Green metrics, assessment tools, and methodology
Environment-related risk mitigation
Use of renewable energy sources
Eco-labeling of IT products
18 L.M. Hilty and B. Aebischer
Besides these focus areas, he mentions two additional aspects:
‘Using IT for Environmental Sustainability [] by offering innovative mod-
eling, simulation, and decision support tools’’
‘Using IT to Create Green Awareness’’ through ‘‘tools such as environmental
Web portals, blogs, wikis, and interactive simulations of the environmental
impact of an activity’’ [44, pp. 32f]
The dichotomy between reducing the footprint of ICT itself and using ICT to
support sustainability has also been called ‘‘Green in ICT’’ versus ‘‘Green by ICT’
Q. Gu et al. develop a ‘‘Green Strategy Model’’ in the IT context that aims to
‘provide decision makers with the information needed to decide on whether to
take green strategies and eventually how to align them with their business strat-
egies’’ [46, p. 62]. This conceptual model differentiates between ‘‘green goals’
(which an organization decides to achieve), ‘‘green actions’’ (which should help
achieve a green goal), ‘‘action effects’’ (the ecological effects of the action with
regard to the green goal), and the economic impacts of the action effects. Green
actions are divided into two categories, ‘‘greening of IT’’ and ‘‘greening by IT’
[46, p. 65].
In trying to cover both sides of the dichotomy, Green ICT is similar to Sus-
tainable HCI. However, the implicit focus of Green ICT seems to be clearly on the
‘Green in ICT’’ part, if one considers the literature. Highly elaborated definitions
and syllabi for Green ICT, such as the syllabus of the British Computer Society
[47], do not include a ‘‘Green by ICT’’ aspect.
There are good reasons for this. Green ICT researchers seem to have created
‘Green by ICT’’ from scratch to fill a perceived gap in their field, apparently
unaware that this area was already covered by other established fields. The first
‘additional aspect’’ mentioned by Murugesan and cited above, ‘‘Using IT for
Environmental Sustainability,’’ looks like a definition of EI or CompSust. The
second aspect, ‘‘Using IT to Create Green Awareness,’’ is part of Persuasive
Technologies and Ambient Awareness and thus covered by Sustainable HCI.
The field of Green Information Systems or Green IS [48] has been conceptu-
alized by Loeser and Erek, for example. The field of IS is, as usual, differentiated
from IT by including not only technical infrastructure but also the human activities
within an organization. Green IS is attributed a higher transformation potential
than ‘‘classical’’ Green ICT: ‘‘Green IS [] promise a much greater, organization-
wide potential to measure, monitor, report and reduce the firm’s environmental
footprint, but the transformation of the business with the help of Green IS requires
a holistic long-term strategy.’’ Green IS strategy is defined as ‘‘the organizational
perspective on the investment in, deployment, use and management of information
systems (IS) in order to minimize the negative environmental impacts of IS, IS-
enabled products and services, and business operations.’’ [48,p.4]
ICT for Sustainability: An Emerging Research Field 19
The software perspective of Green ICT is another important focus. A. Noured-
dine et al. [49] define Green IT from a software perspective as a ‘‘discipline con-
cerned with the optimization of software solutions with regards to their energy
consumption’’ [21,49]. Their focus is on the environmental impacts caused by
software, mainly CO
emissions related to power consumption. The approach
conceptually includes energy models showing the energy use caused by software in
hardware resources (in particular processors, working memory and hard disks),
power monitoring at runtime, and the use of ‘‘power-aware information to adapt
applications at runtime based on energy concerns.’’ [49,p.27]
Both the software product and the processes of software engineering can be
developed in the direction of sustainability (see the chapter by Naumann et al. [50]
in this volume). A central question is how sustainability can be defined as a non-
functional requirement [51].
Table 3 Overview of the research fields relating ICT to sustainability, their main methods, and
intended contributions to sustainable development
Name of the field Main methods Contribution to sustainable development
Information systems
Modeling and
Spatial data
Monitoring the environment
Understanding complex systems
Data-sharing and consensus-building
Constraint reasoning
Machine learning,
Decision support for the management of natural
‘Balancing’’ conflicting goals
Sustainable HCI Empirical HCI
Design research
Methods from other
Longevity of devices
Supporting sustainable lifestyle
Promoting sustainable behavior
Green IT/ICT IT management
IT engineering
Reducing the environmental impacts of ICT
hardware and software
(Green by ICT covered by other fields)
ICT for
Assessment methods
(LCA, TA, others)
Empirical methods
(incl. social
Modeling and
Reducing ICT-induced energy and material
Enabling sustainable patterns of production and
Understanding and using ICT as a
transformational technology
20 L.M. Hilty and B. Aebischer
3.6 ICT for Sustainability
Perhaps the clearest statement of what ICT for Sustainability (ICT4S) means, or
should mean, is the preamble of the recommendations endorsed by the 200 par-
ticipants of the first ICT4S conference held in Zurich in 2013. These
recommendations are published under the title ‘‘How to Improve the Contribution
of ICT to Sustainability’’ in the appendix of the proceedings [2]. The preamble
The transformational power of ICT can be used to make our patterns of production and
consumption more sustainable. However, the history of technology has shown that
increased energy efficiency does not automatically contribute to sustainable development.
Only with targeted efforts on the part of politics, industry and consumers will it be possible
to unleash the true potential of ICT to create a more sustainable society. [2, p. 284]
ICT4S was not originally intended as a research field. It began as a conference
attended by experts from academia, industry and politics with a common aim:
Harnessing this technology for sustainable development. For this reason, there are
many overlaps between ICT4S and pre-existing fields. ICT4S can be subdivided
Sustainability in ICT: Making ICT goods and services more sustainable over
their whole life cycle, mainly by reducing the energy and material flows they
Sustainability by ICT: Creating, enabling, and encouraging sustainable patterns
of production and consumption by means of ICT
Parts of the first aspect are covered by Green ICT, parts of the second by Sus-
tainable HCI and EI. If there is something specific to ICT4S as a field, it is the
critical perspective that challenges every technological solution by assessing its
impact at the societal level: What is the effect of the solution on society at large
– does it have a potential to contribute to sustainable development? In other words,
sustainable development is seen a societal transformation, and technological
impacts are interesting mainly for their transformational aspect.
The methods used in ICT4S are as varied as the disciplines contributing to it.
Due to the critical perspective mentioned above, assessment methods such as
LCA, approaches from Technology Assessment, and others are in use. Empirical
methods from the social sciences are used to study the interactions between
technology design and human behavior. Scenario methods and interdisciplinary
approaches to modeling and simulation are employed to deal with complex
dynamic systems.
ICT4S refers to sustainable development in the sense used by Brundtland, as
defined in Sect. 2(Definition 2).
ICT for Sustainability: An Emerging Research Field 21
3.7 Further Related Fields
A wide variety of other fields are also related to ICT4S, albeit less closely than the
four areas presented in Sects. 3.23.5 above:
ICT4D: ICT for Development, also known as ‘‘Development Informatics,’’ is
defined as ‘‘the application of information and communication technologies for
international development.’’ [52]
ICT4EE: ICT for Energy Efficiency, a notion coined by the European Com-
mission as an umbrella term for activities aimed at improving the energy
efficiency in the ICT sector as well as ‘‘ways in which the ICT sector can lead
to more energy efficiency in other sectors such as buildings, transport and
energy.’’ [53]
Energy Informatics: This field is concerned with ‘‘the application of informa-
tion technologies to integrate and optimize current energy assets such as energy
sources, generating and distributing infrastructures, billing and monitoring
systems, and consumers.’’ [54]
Sustainable Computing: This field is characterized in the journal of the same
name as ‘‘making computing sustainable’ and ‘‘computing for sustainability—
use of computing to make the world a sustainable place’’; it is thus similar to
‘Green in ICT’’ and ‘‘Green by ICT’’ as discussed above, but with a focus on
algorithms. [55]
Digital Sustainability: This term is used with various meanings. It may refer to
the preservation of digital formats and content [56], to the use of media with
low environmental impact [57], or to open access to information resources. [58]
3.8 ICT4S and Ethics
The normative aspects of ICT4S also connect this field to ethical aspects of
computing. Historically, the discourse on the ethics of computing was initiated at
the international level by IFIP TC9, IFIP’s Technical Committee on ICT and
Society, which still promotes this discussion. IFIP, the International Federation for
Information Processing, was founded in 1960 under the auspices of UNESCO as
the umbrella organization of the national computer societies. IFIP TC9 has con-
tinuously inspired, monitored, and framed the development of national ethics
guidelines and codes of conduct for computer professionals in the national member
societies [59].
A discourse analysis conducted by Lignovskaya [60] on the proceedings of the
‘Human Choice and Computers’’ (HCC) proceedings published by IFIP TC9 in
the period 1974–2012 revealed a number of results regarding sustainability. First
mentioned at the 1998 HCC conference, the relationship between sustainable
development and the information society (or knowledge society) was discussed in
22 L.M. Hilty and B. Aebischer
2002 and more broadly in the three succeeding conferences in 2002, 2006, and
2008. The 2012 proceedings show a surprisingly high frequency of ‘‘sustainable x’
terms, in particular ‘‘sustainable innovation,’’ ‘‘sustainable business,’’ ‘‘sustainable
growth,’’ ‘‘sustainable computing,’’ ‘‘sustainable consciousness,’’ and ‘‘sustainable
governance,’’ whose relation to the concept of sustainable development is not
always clear. The term ‘‘sustainable development’’ itself has almost vanished in the
2012 proceedings. A speculative interpretation of this observation is that the con-
cept of sustainable development has been replaced by vague concepts of sustain-
ability. The ICT4S community should therefore contribute clear ideas about the
ethical aspects of sustainable development and the role of ICT in this context.
The results of the overall analysis, which are grouped around the ethical issues
of autonomy and self-determination, responsibility, and distributive justice, are
summarized in [61].
4 Toward a Conceptual Framework for ICT Impacts
on Sustainability
A decade ago, the first author of this chapter was involved in a project by the
European Commission’s Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS)
that aimed to estimate the positive and negative effects of the ‘‘informatization’’ of
society on environmental indicators. The method employed was to develop a
socio-economic model and so simulate various scenarios with a time horizon of
20 years. The most striking result of the simulations was that the overall impact of
ICT on the environment was small, but it had substantial positive or negative
impact in specific areas. For example, ICT applications for making freight trans-
port more efficient increased the demand for transport (faster and cheaper transport
stimulated demand), whereas utilizing the potential of ICT to dematerialize goods
reduced the total demand for materials, which in turn reduced the demand for
transport. Taken as a whole, such effects tended to cancel each other out.
The take-home message from the project was that the idea of ICT being either
good or bad for the environment should be combated. Such simplistic beliefs are
actually harmful, as they prevent the formation of policies that would systemati-
cally unleash the positive potential of ICT while inhibiting its negative potential.
Targeted policies of this type can use ICT as a powerful tool to support the
transition toward sustainability. One of the conclusions of the project team was
that ‘‘It is [] essential to design policies that encourage environmentally
The ICT applications covered by the model were as follows: ‘‘e-business, virtual mobility
(telework, teleshopping, virtual meetings), virtual goods (services partially replacing material
goods), ICT in waste management, intelligent transport systems, ICT in energy supply, ICT in
facility management, ICT in production process management.’’ [65] See the chapter by Ahmadi
Achachlouei and Hilty [66] in this volume for an update on the model.
ICT for Sustainability: An Emerging Research Field 23
advantageous areas of ICT application, while inhibiting applications that tend to
increase the speed of resource consumption.’’ [62, p. 61]
This is less surprising than it seems when one considers that ICT currently
impacts on almost every aspect of production and consumption, in many different
ways. The universality and ubiquity of ICT make it necessary to take a closer look
at its interactions with sustainability. Any approach to systematically addressing
ICT in the context of sustainability, be it from a research, policy-making or
innovation perspective, requires a conceptual framework that answers the funda-
mental question: What types of ICT impacts should we be looking for?
There have been many attempts to define such frameworks, as documented in
the annotated bibliography published in the annex of the ICT4S 2013 proceedings
[63]. Below, we present our most recent proposal—the LES model (Sect. 4.2)—
after describing some intermediate steps that led to it (Sect. 4.1).
4.1 The Three-Levels Model
Many authors differentiate between the first-, second- and third-order effects of
ICT, a classification originally introduced by Berkhout and Hertin in a 2001
OECD report [64]:
1. ‘Direct environmental effects of the production and use of ICTs’
2. Indirect environmental impacts through the change of ‘‘production processes,
products, and distribution systems’
3. Indirect environmental impacts ‘‘through impacts on life styles and value
systems’’ [64,p.2]
This framework has been re-used, re-interpreted and re-labeled many times [63].
Figure 6shows how it can be combined with a second dimension that distin-
guishes positive from negative impacts, i.e., ‘‘ICT as part of the problem’’ from
‘ICT as part of the solution.’’
This matrix was published by the first author of
this chapter in 2008 [67] and revised several times after that. It is intentionally
normative, declaring some effects favorable for sustainability and others unfa-
vorable. We discuss the possible downsides of such a normative approach in
Sect. 4.2 below, and contrast it with a new approach that is purely descriptive.
The matrix contains different categories of ICT effects:
Level 1 refers to the direct effects of the production, use and disposal of ICT,
effects that can be assessed with a Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA) approach. In
particular, this includes the demand for materials and energy throughout the
whole life cycle. These effects are placed entirely on the negative side as they
represent the cost of providing ICT services.
It is implicitly assumed that ‘‘the problem’’ here is the fact that sustainable development
(Definition 2) does not currently exist.
24 L.M. Hilty and B. Aebischer
Level 2 refers to the enabling effects of ICT services, or the effects of applying
ICT. Two of them are attributed to the ‘‘problem’’ side, two to the ‘‘solution’
Induction effect: ICT stimulates the consumption of another resource (e.g., a
printer stimulates the consumption of paper as it uses it faster than a
Obsolescence effect: ICT can shorten the useful life of another resource due
to incompatibility (e.g., a device that is no longer supported by software
updates is rendered obsolete).
Substitution effect: The use of ICT replaces the use of another resource
(e.g., an e-book reader can replace printed books, which is positive if it
avoids the printing of a sufficiently large number of books).
Optimization effect: The use of ICT reduces the use of another resource
(e.g., less energy is used for heating in a smart home that knows where the
people who live in it are located, which windows are open, what weather is
forecast, etc.).
Level 3 refers to the systemic effects, i.e. the long-term reaction of the dynamic
socio-economic system to the availability of ICT services, including behavioral
change (life styles) and economic structural change. On the negative side,
rebound effects prevent the reduction of total material resource use despite
decoupling (see Sect. 2.4) by converting efficiency improvements into addi-
tional consumption, and new risks may emerge, for example due to the vul-
nerability of ICT networks. On the positive side, ICT has the potential to
support sustainable patterns of production and consumption.
Induction effects
Rebound effects
New critical infrastructure
ICT as part of the
Behavioral and
Substitution effects
Optimization effects
Transition towards
sustainable patterns of
production & consumption
Life cycle
of ICT
ICT as part of the
Induction effects
Rebound effects
Emerging risks
Obsolescence effects
n/a by definition
Fig. 6 A matrix of ICT effects, based on [67]
For a detailed discussion of this example, see the chapter by Coroama et al. [13] in this
ICT for Sustainability: An Emerging Research Field 25
Why is an induction effect not considered a rebound effect? The difference is one
of perspective: An induction effect is the increase in the consumption of a specific
resource as a consequence of applying ICT, viewed at the micro level. The
rebound effect is the aggregated result of many processes interacting in a way that
leads to increased consumption, viewed at the macro level. The same question
could be asked with regard to substitution (or optimization) and sustainable pro-
duction and consumption patterns.
The fact that these distinctions are not immediately clear reveals a weakness in
the framework, namely that it mixes up levels of abstraction and categories of
effects. If we understand Level 2 to be the economic micro-level—i.e., referring to
substitutions and other ICT-related actions taking place in firms and private
households—it is not determined what the aggregated effect of these actions will
be at the macro-level. This is because the actions that we are describing in iso-
lation are not actually isolated: In reality, they interact closely with each other via
markets and other mechanisms of social coordination. The rebound effect is thus
not an effect on the macro-level, but a concept related to the relationship between
micro- and macro-level descriptions.
This criticism calls into question the whole idea of postulating normative cat-
egories of effects, at least at the micro-level. No substitution or optimization effect
can be categorized as ‘‘sustainable’’ (or more precisely, conducive to sustainable
development) a priori, as no induction or obsolescence effect can be considered
‘unsustainable’’ or harmful with regard to sustainable development a priori.
Sustainable development (Definition 2) is defined on a global level, which implies
that any analysis or assessment must ultimately take a macro-level perspective.
Isolated actions cannot be considered part of the problem, nor part of the potential
solution, unless there is a procedure in place for systematically assessing the
macro-level impacts of micro-level actions.
4.2 The LES Model
The new model presented below builds on the matrix approach discussed above
(Sect. 4.1), but with the following improvements:
It avoids normative assumptions and tries to be purely descriptive.
It connects better to production theory by reducing optimization to substitution.
It connects better to the sociological structuration theory by using the dualism
of action and structure.
It can be extended, as it does not attempt to categorize all the possible effects of
We call our new model the ‘‘LES model,’’ LES standing for the three levels of
impact: Life-cycle impact, Enabling impact, and Structural impact. Structural
impact represents the highest level of abstraction and thus comes at the top of the
diagram (see Fig. 7). However, we shall describe the levels of impact starting with
the lowest level first and moving upward.
26 L.M. Hilty and B. Aebischer
Level 1, Life-Cycle Impact. This refers to the effects caused by the physical
actions needed to produce the raw materials for ICT hardware, to manufacture ICT
hardware, to provide the electricity for using ICT systems (including the electricity
for non-ICT infrastructures, such as cooling), to recycle ICT hardware, and finally
to dispose of non-recycled waste. The total impact is then allocated to a functional
unit of the service it produces during the use phase.
The method of choice for assessing life-cycle impacts is Life-Cycle Assessment
(LCA). LCA connects the action of providing ICT to the use of natural resources.
In some cases, it may be necessary to include an assessment of social impacts, for
example the social impact of the mining activities required to produce the raw
materials, or the social impact of informal recycling.
Fig. 7 The LES model
ICT for Sustainability: An Emerging Research Field 27
uses uses
uses uses
of control
Fig. 8 Process optimization, media substitution, and externalization of control, explained as
resource substitution: A material resource can be partially replaced by an immaterial resource
(process optimization); the medium of an immaterial resource can be replaced by another
medium (media substitution); and the content of an immaterial resource can be replaced by
content provided from an external source (externalization of control)
In many practical cases, it may be sufficient simply to assess the energy
consumption during the use phase in detail, and use default estimates for the
production and end-of-life treatment.
Level 2, Enabling Impact. This refers to actions that are enabled by the
application of ICT. In the context of sustainability, it is important to understand the
effects of these actions on resource use. We therefore view all actions as processes
of production or consumption. All impacts of ICT will be viewed as special types
of substitution, thus linking the LES model to the definition of substitutability
given further above (see Sect. 2.2, Definition 4).
The model differentiates between three types of enabling impact, each of which
is based on substitution and can occur in both production and consumption: pro-
cess optimization, media substitution, and externalization of control. Note that
these three impacts occur in several places in the central part of Fig. 7.
These enabling impacts can be defined as special types of resource substitution
in the following manner (see also Fig. 8):
Process optimization as substituting an immaterial for a material resource
Media substitution as substituting one material resource for another
Externalization of control as substituting one immaterial resource for another
28 L.M. Hilty and B. Aebischer
We discuss this in more detail below.
Process Optimization. All processes that have a purpose can be optimized by
making use of information. Information is used to reduce the use of another
resource by the process. This applies to production processes in businesses as well
as to consumption by private households.
For example, a taxi driver may use a
satellite navigation system to optimize the route taken when driving someone from
A to B. If the driver of a private vehicle uses the same system to produce the same
service for him- or herself, the optimization effect is essentially the same. In this
sense, we may view process optimization as a category of enabling impact that
applies to both production and consumption.
Process optimization is based, whether explicitly or implicitly, on an objective
function that specifies the input resource that is to be minimized. According to
production theory, this input resource may be labor, capital, or a natural resource
(e.g., energy). Following the distinction between material and immaterial resources
given in Sect. 2.2, these are all material resources. We can therefore view process
optimization, which makes use of information, as substituting immaterial for mate-
rial resources. At the same time, there may also be substitution between different
material resources, depending on the objective function. The typical case here is
industrial automation, which reduces labor at the cost of capital, energy, and infor-
mation. However, it is also possible to substitute information for energy or time
(without increasing energy use) within certain limits. Spreng’s triangle, which
describes the fundamental interactions between time, energy, and information, pro-
vides a basic framework for analyzing these substitutions (see [18], in this volume).
Process optimization can occur either at a level where people are involved (e.g.,
organizational changes in production, behavioral changes in consumption) or at a
purely technological level by making physical changes (see Fig. 7). For example,
introducing sensors to control the lights in a building represents an optimization of
the lighting process, one that does not involve organizational or behavioral change.
Media Substitution. As stated before, immaterial resources need a material
resource as a substrate or medium. The prototypical enabling impact of ICT is the
substitution of a digital electronic medium for the medium that was used previ-
ously. For example, public utilities may replace printed invoices sent by traditional
mail with electronic invoices sent via the Internet. Although this is often referred
to as ‘‘dematerialization,’’ it actually involves substituting one material resource
with another material resource. Whether this contributes to dematerialization as
Consumption processes are often similar to production processes, and can be viewed as
‘household production’’ (except for the last step, i.e., the consumption of the final good or
service). For example, when baking a cake, a consumer transforms commodities purchased on the
market into the final good, which is then consumed.
Note that this terminology differs from that introduced in Sect. 4.1, which treats optimization
and substitution as distinct concepts. In the LES model, process optimization is instead regarded
as a special type of substitution.
ICT for Sustainability: An Emerging Research Field 29
we define it (i.e., as a special case of decoupling; see Sect. 2.4) is a question that
requires systematic assessment in specific cases.
Externalization of Control. Whenever a process requires information as one of its
inputs, it is possible to externalize control over that process. If the information
previously came from an internal source (i.e., from within the organization or
household), this source can be replaced or complemented by an external source.
Typically, this is enabled by a prior media substitution. For example, if a heating
system is connected to the Internet, it can be controlled externally. This has the
potential to lead to further optimizations (e.g., energy savings, remote mainte-
nance), but also opens the door to possible misuse of data.
External control does not have to take place in real time. The distribution of
software products has always represented a sort of external control over the system
executing the software. In just the last few decades, update cycles have changed
from years to days, and web-based applications are now close to real-time control.
Two effects of the ‘‘part of the problem’’ side of the matrix (Fig. 6), namely
obsolescence and emerging risks, can be explained by the externalization of
control. These two effects partially overlap:
Obsolescence can occur if the provider of an external information resource has
a monopoly on that resource and stops providing it; the customer’s process is
‘no longer supported’’ and the capital attached to it devalued.
The fact that the external source of control can affect internal material
resources creates the potential for misuse. In principle, external control can be
used to create obsolescence by means of physical effects or for unwanted
interference by third parties (as in the case of Stuxnet).
The factual vulnerability of the ICT infrastructure creates risks for any system
with external control.
Level 3, Structural Impact. The third level of the LES model refers to ICT
impacts that lead to persistent changes observable at the macro level. Structures
emerge from the entirety of actions at the micro level and, in turn, influence these
actions. We focus here on two types of social structures: economic structures that
emerge through the accumulation of capital, and institutions. Institutions, in the
wider sense, include anything immaterial that shapes action, that is to say law,
policies, social norms, and anything that can be regarded as the ‘‘rules of the game.’
Structural Change. Structural change in general is any transition of economic
structures. Two ongoing transitions connected to ICT are relevant for our dis-
cussion: dematerialization and the networked economy.
Examples of such assessments are given in the chapters by Coroama et al. [13] and by
Hischier and Wäger [12] in this volume.
Note that we are not claiming that this is the only mechanism that can promote obsolescence,
but it is the one most likely to occur as an impact of ICT. This impact is not restricted to ICT
devices but can also affect other products with embedded ICT (e.g., a blind control system).
30 L.M. Hilty and B. Aebischer
We have defined dematerialization as a special case of decoupling (see
Sect. 2.4). It can be viewed as a necessary but insufficient condition for sustainable
development. In broad terms, dematerialization is the aggregate result of many
process optimizations and media substitutions, moderated by rebound effects.
The networked economy is a new mode of production that has emerged with the
appearance of the Internet and, in particular, Web 2.0 technologies. ‘‘The funda-
mental unit of such an economy is not the corporation but the individual. Tasks
aren’t assigned and controlled through a stable chain of management but rather are
carried out autonomously by independent contractors.’’ [68] This development may
be relevant for sustainability in two ways. First, it may change the patterns of
resource use in production in general. Second, it may be used specifically for pro-
jects aimed at contributing to sustainability—as in the case of MIT’s Climate
Co-Lab [69]—with the potential to tap the ‘‘wisdom of crowds.’’ [70].
Institutions. To be relevant for sustainable development, institutional change
usually involves environmental and development policies. These two types of
policies are both crucial if society is to succeed in making sustainable use of the
planet and meeting the needs of humanity.
ICT is indirectly involved in this through its key role in environmental moni-
toring and research, which shapes our view of the environment. ICT-based envi-
ronmental information systems also support the implementation of environmental
policies and regulations. In addition, ICT plays an important role in development,
for example by providing people living in poverty who do not have bank accounts
with alternative systems for carrying out financial transactions.
In a networked society, communication is more efficient and social norms
evolve faster. This is conducive to the development of social norms related to
sustainability, norms that are based on environmental and social awareness.
Extendability of the LES Model. The list of ICT impacts in the LES model is
not intended to be exhaustive. Although we have tried to build the conceptual
structure around a minimal set of basic concepts (material and immaterial
resources, substitution, production, consumption, economic structure, institution),
we are fully aware that, in reality, the world is more complex.
At Levels 2 and 3, where we could not draw upon an established methodology
(unlike at Level 1), we have included ‘‘residual categories’’ at five different points:
Level 2, other organizational change: Besides business process optimization, ICT
can induce many organizational changes in production (e.g., flexible work patterns).
Level 2, other behavioral change: This covers persuasive technologies, sus-
tainable interaction design, and, more generally, research into social practices
and lifestyles and their transformation.
Level 2, other technological change: Some effects of ICT besides process
optimization, media substitution, and externalization of control can potentially
be implemented directly at the physical level.
Level 3, other structural change: Economic structures may change in an ICT-
based society in ways other than dematerialization and the network economy.
ICT for Sustainability: An Emerging Research Field 31
Fig. 9 The chapters of this book mapped onto the LES model (see Fig. 7for a larger view of the
Issues such as intellectual property rights linked to media substitution may
trigger a structural change in other directions.
Level 3, other institutional change: Besides environmental policies, develop-
ment policies, and social norms specifically connected to the issue of sus-
tainability, many other institutional developments (e.g., ideological or religious
developments) may be relevant for sustainable development.
5 Organization of This Book
This book is organized in five parts, as follows:
Part I consists of three chapters introducing the topic of the book from different
32 L.M. Hilty and B. Aebischer
Part II presents research into energy-related aspects of the ICT life cycle.
Part III presents research into material aspects of the ICT life cycle.
Part IV contains a collection of concepts, perspectives, and case studies on the
enabling impact of ICT at the micro-level, including a number of assessments
of aggregated effects.
Part V consists of three chapters presenting frameworks and models for the link
between the micro- and the macro-level.
In Fig. 9, we have attempted to map chapters to relevant parts of the LES model.
Readers can use this map as a guide to identifying which chapters may be of
greater interest to them. The map also reveals at least one ‘‘blind spot,’’ Level 3:
structural impact. Future research into ICT for sustainability should work more
closely with the social sciences (including economics), so as to capture the full
interaction between enabling impacts and the evolution of social structures.
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36 L.M. Hilty and B. Aebischer
... IS can influence sustainability through developing and innovating new, sustainable technology (e.g. Corbett, 2013;Melville, 2010), which may for example guide sustainable consumption (Hilty and Aebischer, 2015). IS design can also consider human values (Winkler and Spiekermann, 2019), and how using IS can support collaboration in sustainability efforts (Elliot and Webster, 2017). ...
... Technology development can affect sustainability for example through IS innovations (Hilty and Aebischer, 2015;Melville, 2010), and persuasive systems design (Corbett, 2013). In organizations, IS use can influence behaviour dictated by sustainability initiatives (Bengtsson and Ågerfalk, 2011), and sustainability efforts can be supported by IS enabling collaboration between businesses, governments, and societies (Elliot and Webster, 2017), or IS supporting innovations (Hanelt et al., 2017) and business intelligence management in organizations (de Camargo Fiorini and Jabbour, 2017;Petrini and Pozzebon, 2009). ...
... Another key contribution is bringing the Quintuple Helix Innovation Model (Carayannis et al., 2012) into IS sustainability research as a useful framework. While the model has been intended for sustainable development of innovations (Carayannis et al., 2012), and IS research has already considered innovations and sustainability (Hanelt et al., 2017;Hilty and Aebischer, 2015;Melville, 2010), the framework has not been utilized in IS so far even though it fits there very well. The Quintuple Helix model guided us to reflect our interviewees' discourses on sustainable technology development and use against the five helices of education, politics, economy/industry, nature/environment, and civil society (see Fig. 2 as a summary of our findings) and helped make visible the complex ecosystem of stakeholders needed for sustainability efforts. ...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Sustainability is a major theme in today's discourses across disciplines, including Information Systems (IS). Creating a more sustainable world is considered an interdisciplinary effort and IS an inherently interdisciplinary field. Working with complex problems benefits from deeper disciplinary understanding than can be obtained by researchers operating within one field. We interviewed 30 researchers from different fields on sustainable technology development and use, analysing their discourses and reflecting those with the Quintuple Helix Innovation Model that aims for sustainable development of innovations. Our findings show power is woven into sustainability: education can empower us to make sustainable choices, politicians must be vigilant of developments in the industry to protect us as companies follow business interests, and we must all be conscious of the impact technology can have on us and our environments. We contribute with insights on the role of researchers in these discourses, and propose an IS research agenda.
... The discourse on the environmental sustainability of using information and communication technologies (ICT) has become increasingly well founded, complex, and interdisciplinary. Nevertheless, large research gaps remain regarding both empirical and conceptual and theoretical knowledge (for an overview, see [1,2]). This paper mainly addresses the following three research gaps. ...
... For example, several studies focus on sustainability of software engineering but do not investigate the combination of both hardand software and its implications for policy-making [16][17][18][19]. Other studies focus on a certain analytical level, e.g., by differentiating between first-, second-, and third-order impacts, but fail to discuss policy solutions that systematically address all those levels ( [1,20,21]). (3) Most studies on ICT and environmental sustainability do not account for existing sustainability strategies. ...
... Various definitions of sufficiency can be found. Most of them understand sufficiency as avoiding overconsumption while reducing the use of scarce natural resources and fossil fuel-based energy [1][2][3]. Traditionally, most literature on sufficiency has focused on individual consumer behavior, e.g., rethinking personal needs and avoiding excessive consumer behavior [35,36]. Sufficiency-orientated behavior includes absolute reductions of consumption, modal shifts to more resource-efficient transport modes, product lifetime extension, and sharing practices [35,37]. ...
Full-text available
ICT hold significant potential to increase resource and energy efficiencies and contribute to a circular economy. Yet unresolved is whether the aggregated net effect of ICT overall mitigates or aggravates environmental burdens. While the savings potentials have been explored, drivers that prevent these and possible counter measures have not been researched thoroughly. The concept digital sufficiency constitutes a basis to understand how ICT can become part of the essential environmental transformation. Digital sufficiency consists of four dimensions, each suggesting a set of strategies and policy proposals: (a) hardware sufficiency, which aims for fewer devices needing to be produced and their absolute energy demand being kept to the lowest level possible to perform the desired tasks; (b) software sufficiency, which covers ensuring that data traffic and hardware utilization during application are kept as low as possible; (c) user sufficiency, which strives for users applying digital devices frugally and using ICT in a way that promotes sustainable lifestyles; and (d) economic sufficiency, which aspires to digitalization supporting a transition to an economy characterized not by economic growth as the primary goal but by sufficient production and consumption within planetary boundaries. The policies for hardware and software sufficiency are relatively easily conceivable and executable. Policies for user and economic sufficiency are politically more difficult to implement and relate strongly to policies for environmental transformation in general. This article argues for comprehensive policies for digital sufficiency, which are indispensible if ICT are to play a beneficial role in overall environmental transformation.
... La seconde critique majeure s'agissant de l'intérêt de l'innovation technologique pour le développement durable concerne les potentialités de la dématérialisation, de la virtualisation des activités (Diemer, 2012 ;Hilty et Aebischer, 2015). De fait, les TIC n'ont pas étaient conçues à des fins environnementales et constituent avant tout une nouvelle « révolution industrielle » (Flipo et al., 2016). ...
Face à l’engouement suscité par le « véhicule autonome » depuis le milieu des années 2010, les pouvoirs publics locaux cherchent à préciser leur position et l’action publique à mener à moyen et long terme en la matière. En effet, les effets attendus de cette technologie, positifs, sur la sécurité et la circulation routières, mais aussi négatifs, sur le nombre de véhicule-kilomètres parcourus ou la fréquentation des transports en commun, s’inscrivent à l’échelle territoriale. Considérant l’incertitude inhérente à ces prévisions, le recours à l’évaluation ex ante est d’intérêt pour renseigner la décision publique locale. Cette thèse propose donc un cadre méthodologique pour une évaluation prospective et durable du véhicule autonome à l’échelle métropolitaine. La méthodologie définie est illustrée grâce à une « preuve de concept », consistant en une application à la Métropole de Rouen. Ainsi, trois scénarios d’introduction du véhicule autonome : véhicules personnels, taxis et système de rabattement sont étudiés grâce à une analyse multicritères qualitative et participative. Cette mise en œuvre montre l’utilité de recourir aux principes méthodologiques de l’évaluation prospective et de l’évaluation durable pour formaliser l’évaluation du véhicule autonome. Plus généralement, prospective et durabilité apparaissent comme des notions clés pour une gestion réfléchie et distanciée de l’introduction du véhicule autonome.
... Jevons (1865) initially pointed out what we now term as the "rebound effect" when technological improvements that increased the efficiency of coal-use, led to its increased consumption in a wide range of industries. The rebound effect is now applied to the wide number of so-called efficiency technologies who tend to produce growth in their uptake and use, counteracting any environmental gains garnered through their new efficiency (Hilty & Aebischer, 2014). ...
Full-text available
Online food delivery has transformed the last-mile of food and grocery delivery, with unnoticed yet often significant impacts upon the transport and logistics network. This new model of food delivery is not just increasing congestion in urban centers though, it is also changing the contours and qualities of those doing delivery—namely through gig economy work. This new system of food consumption and provision is rapidly gaining traction, but assessments around its current and future sustainability tend to hold separate the notions of social, environmental and economic sustainability—with few to date working to understand how these can interact, influence and be in conflict with one another. This paper seeks to work with this broader understanding of sustainability, whilst also foregrounding the perspectives of gig economy couriers who are often marginalized in such assessments of the online food delivery system. We make use of systems thinking and Campbell’s conflict model of sustainability to do this. In assessing the online food delivery in this way, we seek to not only provide a counternarrative to some of these previous assessments, but to also challenge those proposing the use of gig economy couriers as an environmentally sustainable logistics intervention in other areas of last-mile logistics to consider how this might impact the broader sustainability of their system, now and in the future.
... There exist methods and tools which allow a discussion of the sustainability effects of ordinary systems (e.g., (Hilty and Aebischer, 2015) (Alharthi et al., 2018) (Seyff et al., 2018)). We selected the Sustainability Awareness Framework (SusAF) as the basis for our ongoing research because it is well described in the literature, and relevant artefacts for working with SusAF are publicly available . ...
... 1 However, there are three significant rebound effects in the existing literature: direct, indirect, and economy-wide. According to Hilty and Aebischer (2015) , a direct rebound effect implies that price reductions stemming from energy efficiency increase the demand for ICT goods, leading to higher energy consumption. An indirect rebound effect occurs when the efficiency of a resource causes its price to decrease, making other goods more desirable. ...
Full-text available
Increased infrastructure resilience (SDG9) and reducing climate change's effects (SDG13) have been recognised as key Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). There is a growing argument suggesting the existence of a trade-off between enhancing Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) infrastructure and preserving the environment. The evidence suggests that countries may be required to sacrifice one goal to meet another. Based on an ICT index and the ecological footprint, the present study reinvestigated the impact of ICT on environmental quality for a sample of 47 Sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries from 1990 to 2017. In contrast to preceding studies, the present study employed superior econometric procedures to handle heterogeneities across nations and, thus, has produced more trustworthy and efficient results. The results obtained from Driscoll and Kraal's standard error, Feasible Generalized Least Squares (FGLS), and Panel-Corrected Standard Errors (PCSE) techniques were consistent. They showed that the deployment of ICT services had a favourable but insignificant impact on the quality of the environment in the selected economies. The results also revealed that; renewable energy, education, and political institutions played significant roles in maintaining the quality of the environment. Likewise, the results confirmed the inverted U-shape as suggested in the EKC hypothesis. Overall, the results indicated no trade-offs between increasing infrastructure resilience and maintaining the quality of the environment in the SSA region.
There is great interest in how the growth of artificial intelligence and machine learning may affect global GHG emissions. However, such emissions impacts remain uncertain, owing in part to the diverse mechanisms through which they occur, posing difficulties for measurement and forecasting. Here we introduce a systematic framework for describing the effects of machine learning (ML) on GHG emissions, encompassing three categories: computing-related impacts, immediate impacts of applying ML and system-level impacts. Using this framework, we identify priorities for impact assessment and scenario analysis, and suggest policy levers for better understanding and shaping the effects of ML on climate change mitigation. The rapid growth of artificial intelligence (AI) is reshaping our society in many ways, and climate change is no exception. This Perspective presents a framework to assess how AI affects GHG emissions and proposes approaches to align the technology with climate change mitigation.
Conference Paper
Sustainable Software Engineering, also known as “Green IN Software”, focuses on the production of sustainable software. The traditional software engineering process causes negative influences on the environment, economy and to society. For instance, the energy consumption during the software processing is considered as a first order impact because it directly leads to high costs on energy bills and consequently on the environment. Moreover, the optimization of a process implementation and software development can lead to second-order impacts, also referred to as indirect impacts. Finally, the third other impact considers the user's behaviors and consciousness regarding the concept of sustainability. In order to mitigate these negative impacts, the purpose of this research is to identify, via systematic literature review, the practices of sustainable software engineering reported by the academy applied in the industry. Through the systematic literature review, it was possible to discover 170 practices in which 70 were related to practices of energy consumption that could be adopted during the software development. Our results indicate that those practices emerged from the grounded theory, which are part of SWEBOK areas and are applicable in the industry.
The link between sustainability and digital transformation has been a recurrent topic in the literature and has reached new interest peaks at the beginning of the 2020s. In this context, intelligent data management is not optional, but a requirement if the European Union aims to successfully implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in a timely manner. Since data is such a valuable asset and tool for assessing, reporting, and predicting success, Facebook is one of the big data providers that can contribute to a better understanding of the interest and openness of the population toward the concepts of sustainability and sustainable development. Since Facebook collects personal data related to preferences and actions specific to sustainable behaviors, an emergent research question is whether Facebook data can predict the sustainable development level in the case of regions and countries. The objective of this research was to explore the interest of EU-27 citizens for the topic of sustainability by resorting to Facebook Audience Insight database and connect the results with the statistics of sustainable development of the EU-27 states. In this book chapter, multiple digital profiles of EU-27 citizens were developed and explained for each country, based on many factors: nationality, age, gender, the intensity, and nature of engagement on the social network platform.
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These are the proceedings of the first teacher training of the Erasmus+ project No. 2020-1-PT01-KA203-078646 -- Sustrainable. The full title of this project is Promoting Sustainability as a Fundamental Driver in Software Development Training and Education and the interested reader may know more about it at: The flagship contribution is the organization of two summer schools on sustainable software production. The first summer school is moved due to the Corona pandemic. It is now scheduled for July 2022 in Rijeka, Croatia. This summer school will consist of lectures and practical work for master and PhD students in the area of computing science and closely related fields. There will be contributions from Plovdiv University, University of Ko\v{s}ice, University of Coimbra, University of Minho, E\"otv\"os Lor\'and University, University of Rijeka, Radboud University Nijmegen, University of Pula, University of Amsterdam and Babe\c{s}-Bolyai University. To prepare and streamline this summer school, the consortium organized a teacher training in Nijmegen, the Netherlands. This was an event of five full days on November 1-5, 2022 organized by Ingrid Berenbroek, Mart Lubbers and Pieter Koopman on the campus of the Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands. Sustainability is one of the themes within the strategy of the Radboud University called `A Significant Impact', see Sustainability plays an important role in education, research, and management. The contributions were reviewed and give a good overview of what can be expected from the summer school. Based on these papers and the very positive and constructive atmosphere, we expect a high quality and pleasant summer school. We are looking forward to contributing to a sustainable future.
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ICT4D – the application of information and communication technologies for international development – is moving to a new phase. This will require new technologies, new approaches to innovation and implementation, new intellectual perspectives and, above all, a new view of the world's poor. All these must be understood if we are to harness digital technologies in the service of some of our world's most pressing problems. This paper explains the phase change – from "ICT4D 1.0" to "ICT4D 2.0" – and its implications. The background to these phases is reviewed, charting the logic and chronology of applying ICTs in developing countries. The implications of the phase change are then analysed. First, in terms of new technology and application priorities. Then, in relation to new models of innovation we may need to embrace: from laboratory to collaborative to grassroots innovation. Next, in relation to new implementation models for funding, managing, and applying digital technology. Finally, the paper looks at necessary new worldviews to guide our thinking and our policies in this field; integrating perspectives from computer science, information systems and development studies. Additional commentaries and models provide a further set of rich insights into the future of ICT4D.
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Environmental management information systems (EMIS) represent an important contribution for the support of environmental protection by companies. In this contribution a special feature of EMIS will be focused on which supports the documentation and reduction of the considerable amounts of environmental damage caused by industrial production. A presentation of the foundations of EMIS and production-integrated environmental protection is followed by a discussion of concepts of computer-supported material flow management and recycling planning and management.
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From the beginning of time, humans have yearned to know what lies ahead. Throughout history our forebears tried to influence and anticipate the future, by sacrifices to the gods, imploring oracles for advice, reading the stars, and more recently through scientific prediction. In this book Jennifer M. Gidley explains how our traditional belief in a single predetermined future has been challenged by quantum physics, and argues that we’ve always had multiple possible futures over which we have infinite control. Considering some of our most burning questions about the nature of the future, Gidley shows how we have learned to study, understand, imagine and create alternative futures.
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This Report is the first in a series of reports on decoupling to be published by the International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management. It aims at scoping the challenges of decoupling. On material flows, the Report gives quantitative assessments at a global scale, at national levels, classified into the four major categories of primary raw materials: construction minerals, ores and industrial minerals, fossil fuel carriers, and biomass. Globally, the extraction of raw materials is estimated to be between 47 and 59 billion metric tons (Gt) per year, with a clear tendency of further massive increases. Over one century, the use of construction materials grew roughly 34 fold, that of ores 27 fold, while biomass use, dominating material flows in the first half of the last century, increased only 3.6 fold. The Report proceeds to delineate three different trajectories of resource consumption until 2050, assuming in all three cases that the populations of all countries will change according to the UN projections (medium variant). (1) A business-as-usual scenario assumes for developed countries a continuation of the decoupling as observed in the past and rising levels of resource consumption in all other countries to the level of the developed countries by 2050. Not surprisingly, this would lead to a tripling of global annual resource extraction and consumption, as poorer countries catch up with the consumption patterns of the rich. The planetary environmental impacts would be unbearably high. (2) A moderate contraction and convergence scenario assumes absolute reductions for the industrial countries to a consumption per capita of half of the rates for the year 2000 (contraction), while all other countries catch up to this (reduced) level by 2050 (convergence). For developing countries, this implies decoupling. Despite the structural changes in the dominant production and consumption patterns implied by this trajectory, it leads to a roughly 40% increase in annual global resource use and associated impacts. (3) A tough contraction and convergence scenario simulates a pathway towards keeping global primary resource extraction at the current level. This implies even more reduction in resource use for industrial countries and much stronger decoupling for developing countries. It is the only trajectory that in terms of fossil fuel consumption and related CO2 emissions complies with the climate protection targets set by the IPCC.
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This bibliography covers articles published in journals, conference proceedings or as book chapters that reflect on the role of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in society’s challenge of developing more sustainable patterns of production and consumption. The bibliography is focused on contributions presenting conceptual frameworks intended to structure this interdisciplinary field of research. Some sources not explicitly presenting a conceptual framework were included for their contribution to structuring the research field.
We have an addiction to fossil fuels, and it’s not sustainable. The developed world gets 80% of its energy from fossil fuels; Britain, 90%. And this is unsustainable for three reasons. First, easily-accessible fossil fuels will at some point run out, so we’ll eventually have to get our energy from someplace else. Second, burning fossil fuels is having a measurable and very-probably dangerous effect on the climate. Avoiding dangerous climate change motivates an immediate change from our current use of fossil fuels. Third, even if we don’t care about climate change, a drastic reduction in Britain’s fossil fuel consumption would seem a wise move if we care about security of supply: continued rapid use of the North Sea Photo by Terry Cavner. oil and gas reserves will otherwise soon force fossil-addicted Britain to depend on imports from untrustworthy foreigners. (I hope you can hear my tongue in my cheek.) How can we get off our fossil fuel addiction? There’s no shortage of advice on how to “make a difference,” but the public is confused, uncertain whether these schemes are fixes or figleaves. People are rightly suspicious when companies tell us that buying their “green” product means we’ve “done our bit.” They are equally uneasy about national energy strategy. Are “decentralization” and “combined heat and power,” green enough, for example? The government would have us think so. But would these technologies really discharge Britain’s duties regarding climate change? Are windfarms “merely a gesture to prove our leaders’ environmental credentials”? Is nuclear power essential? We need a plan that adds up. The good news is that such plans can be made. The bad news is that implementing them will not be easy.
This chapter clarifies the linkages of strategy types and levels that relate to Green IT: business, sustainability, and IT strategy. The significance of aligning IT with business and environmental strategies is pointed out. It is emphasized that trade-off decisions are inherent to strategic management and essential for competitive positioning. Following this, a choice-based conceptual framework for the strategic alignment of Green IT is presented. The underlying strategy framework consists of three different strategy levels (corporate, competitive, functional) and domains (business, IT, sustainability). The conceptualized framework facilitates a holistic Green IT alignment with the aid of a five-step process. In the scope of this alignment process, four different Green IT strategies are presented. These strategies are subdivided along two dimensions: competitive advantage and focus. This research is supposed to provide new insights concerning the strategic impact of Green IT and to assist practitioners in identifying the Green IT strategy that corresponds most appropriately to their firm-specific context.
This contribution is based on the talk I gave at the conference on ICT for Sustainability, February 14–16, ETH Zürich [1], in which I reopened the discussion on the impact of ICT on energy consumption [2]. The chapter has four sections. The introduction connects my topic to the conference theme. In part two, I discuss energy conservation; the mutual substitutability of energy, time and information; and some fundamental aspects of the nature of these three quantities. In the third part I present two empirical case studies of this mutual substitutability. Finally, in the fourth section, I conclude by speculating on what these results may mean in term of ICT’s effects on sustainability, mindful of the role of time and of economic growth in this interaction. © Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015. All Rights Reserved.
Sustainability intersects Information and Communication Technology in two domains: Green IT (how can we make ICT itself more sustainable?) and Green by IT (how can we achieve sustainability through ICT?). On a closer look, it is software that links these two fields: In “classic” Green IT, there are many ways to build and use hardware in a more energy-efficient way. On the software side, Green by IT has often been software-based until now, involving tools that help to optimize logistics and automate processes to save energy, for example. However, the debate over software-induced energy consumption is just beginning. To date, few studies have been conducted about the energy saving potential of software itself. Therefore, it is important to investigate the meaning of sustainable software and sustainable software engineering. This chapter provides definitions of these concepts. In addition, it presents a reference model of sustainable software as well as its engineering. However, it provides only a short introduction of the model itself. The sub-model “Sustainability Criteria for Software Products” and sustainable software process models are examined in greater detail.